Postal Predicament

Monday February 23, 2009 @ 06:55 PM (UTC)

So I took a walk in the rain today down to my local post office. As I’ve mentioned, I am fond of the postal service. I like ink, paper, pens, letters, stamps and post. I also like my local post office. Today I hied me hither because I was walking that way anyway, and because it might give my short story submission a few hours’ jump over home pickup. My carefully paper-clipped story, my SASE, and my signed cover letter were tucked into the traditional manila envelope, laid on my dear little home postal scale, and affixed with no fewer than five stamps (like my colleague Tina I like messing with the stamps) in order to reach the exact postage for a ‘flat’ (big envelope.)

Today, however, escorting my carefully addressed short fiction submission to the ‘stamped mail’ slot, I noticed a sign that said Bring packets and parcels to the main desk. The item in my hand resembled a ‘packet’, so I strolled over to the desk and approached the postal employee — not the one with whom I usually chat. “Am I not allowed to put this in the slot?” quoth I. The lady took the envelope full of hopes and dreams and slapped it on the scale. “I already weighed it…” I protested. She pinched my hopes and dreams appraisingly, then looked at me over her glasses.

“Does this have anything rigid?”

“No. Just a paperclip.”

“That’s rigid!”


“That’s rigid. It’s like a key.”

“But…every short fiction writer in the world is probably in trouble,” I babbled. “Editors don’t like staples. Are staples okay?”

“Staples are fine. It’ll be 34 cents more.”

I nodded and managed to buy the stamps I needed before wandering away, feeling (and doubtless looking) poleaxed. If this is true, it means almost every postal submission I’ve ever sent out has been underposted. I imagined that every sub had arrived solely by dint of luck. I imagined my pristine manila envelopes arriving in New York stamped with an angry and inconsiderate “POSTAGE DUE”! I shuddered. And tweeted.

Then I rebelled. Seriously, if my postal submissions are underpaid, but no one notices and they’re getting there just fine, are the clips really a problem? Wouldn’t the editors have objected if they were paying 34 cents a pop for the privilege of turning me down? So here I sit, bending one of my largest paper clips easily to and fro between my thumbs. It is nothing like a key. The USPS website prohibits items in flats that do “not bend easily” or " cause more than 1/4 inch variation in thickness" — to my eye, this clip is fine.

What do you think, fellow writers? Are you willing to pony up an extra buck every three submissions on this nebulous pretext? Do you think my post office is being overly rigid? Anyone know an editor who takes paper submissions well enough to ask whether they get “postage due” often?


I think I would have politely walked away from the counter and gone somewhere else or posted from home. I think you had an amazing encounter with a wicked witch of the USPS who was on a severe power trip. Go somewhere else or only deal with personnel you know at that branch. It does make a difference…and no, all those other mss were NOT marked postage due.

I’m very much inclined to do as you suggest in future. Part of the reason I’d chosen to do my stamp errand yesterday is that I enjoy chatting with the other lady, who has learned my name and so forth in the most neighborly way. With the threat of this paperclip surcharge hanging over my head, I may just choose the more hermity course!

Their rules are arbitrary and arbitrarily organized and enforced. You offered the evil one too much information (if someone asks you if you’re a god, you say yes…in this case, when someone asks if you have anything blankety blank, you say no)
But I have had so many bad encounters in various post offices around America, I literally can’t step foot inside anymore. (Glenn now does the drop-offs – just machines and slots, no personal encounters – and the buying of stamps.) The more places that take electronic submission, the better.
They deserve some private competition. No one could do a worse job. (Mailmen across the country have literally stolen things from my packages, not delivered my mail, lost my mail, lost checks that I had coming from employers, and generally messed up my writing and personal life as much as possible.)

Perhaps there is a postal luck, just as there is a traffic luck (my dad gets a slow truck every time, on any continent; my mom gets green lights) and a computer luck (computers physically break when my friend Kug touches them; my computer’s software stops glitching when Ryan walks within a certain radius.) Because I haven’t had any notable nightmares with the Post Office, and generally I find chatty, affable employees who remember me from visit to visit and are very helpful.

Sorry :P

Or perhaps over time, statistically, you are more likely to encounter bad postal service? One of those things, like when I used to walk into a Circuit City and get good service, when everyone else complained about how terrible they were…and still, I consistently got good service whenever I went. I guess enough people had the “bad service” experience to make the company go under, though.

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